My ePub copy of this from the Hugo Voters Packet had really messed up formatting, but I perservered anyway, because this story is awesome. Six-Gun Snow White is the classic Snow White fairytale reinterpreted through the lens of the Old American West. Snow White is the ironically-named child of a silver mine owner and a Crow woman, Gun That Sings, who married him against her will so that he would leave her people alone. Gun That Sings dies in childbirth, and Snow White’s father hides her away, embarrassed or uninterested in her upbringing. Then he remarries and his wife decides to “civilize” Snow White.
Catherynne M. Valente delivers a tale that is a compelling bundle of postcolonialist considerations, tatters of the fairytale ethos, and feminist musings. Snow White is a complicated protagonist and narrator (and the book is in first person for the most part, so take that into account when ascribing veracity to her account!). Her social interaction has been limited to the few staff her father employed in her upkeep, plus, of course, her oft-absent father and her wicked stepmother. The latter is a perfect role model for any unloved child: cruel, heartless (heh heh), yet stalwart in her misguided insistence that her actions are necessary because she “loves” her charge and only wants the best for her.
There’s just so much to unpack from this novella, which verges on being a short novel. Snow White is hobbled from birth by virtue of her skin: too dark to be considered a white woman, too light to be considered Crow; she is an outcast from everywhere. Then, of course, in the setting Valente has chosen, women have very limited social choices, and none of them seem applicable to Snow White. But Snow White rejects this fate. She flees her father’s gilt prison and her stepmother’s nefarious designs. She becomes a fugitive, learning as she goes that the problem with being on the run is that one never stops. It reminds me a lot of Marian Call’s song “Vera Flew the Coop.”
Six-Gun Snow White is just absolutely enthralling. I haven’t always been a fan of Valente’s style, but Snow White’s one-step-removed tone of narration works well here. It preserves that fairytale aspect of the story even if the events themselves are anything but a fairytale—no fairy godmother, no Prince Charming, just a glass coffin at the end. Brilliant story that definitely deserves its Hugo nomination—check it out.